Is depression getting you down?
Yeah I get it. Been depressed from about the age of 1 until about the age of 30. The days and nights where the ability to get out of bed simply didn’t exist. No motivation for anything. Even breathing was too hard some days. I’d just lay in bed and stare at the ceiling and try to stop breathing because it was too hard. I’d starve all day. Would go to the bathroom only because I didn’t have the motivation to clean my bed if it got soiled and I cannot stand, no matter how depressed I am, sleeping in my own urine and feces. The cat was too hard to feed. The plants too difficult to water. Homework too hard to do. Everything was impossible. I got up for work because I needed a place to live. But I was numb and disassociated for most of it and the only reason I could handle work is because I rarely had to deal with people.
But if you met me now you would swear I’ve never been depressed a day in my life. That’s because I spent years working with myself and healing myself. And here is something interesting I learned about depression.
Depression is the emotional equivalent to being sick.
I mean physically sick.And not because you caught something. It’s akin to that weird illness that strikes when you’ve been running on empty for too long. You know the one. All you do is sleep and after a few days you wake up and you feel fine. Better than fine. Amazing actually. Ready to run around like an anxious chicken without a head for months and years to come! Until you drain your physical systems again and the body gets pissed and decides to shut down again and you get that weird sickness all over again.
Depression is like that sickness. The last resort when you have ignored and punished every other sign that you need to slow down and take care of yourself right now. So basically what depression is saying is that you need to chill out and work with whatever shit you’ve been avoiding all this time.
That is what depression did for me. Now I’m not discounting those with chemical and hormonal imbalances. That happens. It does. Nor am I discounting the addicts, because I was sure addicted to melancholy, sadness, pain, and depression for many years.
But for me the depression was really a signal to sit down with myself and deal with some very uncomfortable and painful truths. And while it didn’t give me much motivation, drive, or energy to do that kind of work, it did make me stop and it did give me the space necessary to do that work.
My depression had a purpose and a goal.
It worked something like this. When in the throes of my depression, one emotion would show up at a time. And I was able to deal exclusively with that one emotion. Outside of depression, all the emotions would clamor for attention all the time and I would have to yell above the din inside myself that “I can’t work with all of you all the time so line up and come at me one by one.” Depression was the remover of all the emotions but the one. It was also the dampener of the one emotion so I could look at what was needed the most without losing my mind.
Sadness would stop by and I’d cry uncontrollably. Then I’d sleep because that was exhausting. Then melancholy would show up and I would immerse myself in it and then I’d sleep because that was exhausting. Then fear would show up and I would hide and scream. Then I’d sleep because that was exhausting. One by one they would show up, do their thing, and then I’d sleep. When I just let them show up in whatever order they showed up in, I would move through the depression faster.
And then I started seeking my emotions out one by one. On purpose. Of course it didn’t work as well as depression did. They did swamp me until I made it clear I could be swamped and do nothing or they could be reasonable and show up in ones and twos so we could work on stuff together. And I’d have to do that over and over again. Very frustrating. I almost missed depression at times. But it wasn’t really needed as much once I started doing things on my own so it happened less and less and when it did happen it was not as deep or as long lived. But that happened over the course of years.
And finally one day I decided to face depression head on. We had an amazing conversation. I was so grateful for what it explained it was doing for me that I cried with gratitude for awhile. Then we discussed how we could change things since I had done so much and things got better. And depression lifted until it was needed.
And now, honestly, since I’m so proactive about working with my emotions all the time, depression is hardly needed. Though it does show up now and then when something just isn’t moving yet and I have very little control over the movement. It sort of becomes a place to hold onto things until I need them, like my motivation. You know when you have to rely on other people to do their part before you can move forward? And it takes far longer than you want it to? That is when the depression, for me, comes in handy. It becomes the place to hold the energy and emotion until things have progressed and I can take motivation, or whatever it is, out again and use it.
What this may mean for others with depression.
So depression is a signal that something needs to be done. The problem is that most of us have no idea what that is because we are given no skill set for emotions period. And depression is a very misunderstood emotion when held up to the ideal of being happily and busily energetic all the time. Which frankly is impossible. I don’t care how happy you are most of the time, there will always be times you are unhappy. I don’t care how busy you are you have to take a break and rest and play. These are basic human needs and basic human rights. And we have trampled all over them. We have become our biggest abusers. And then we wonder why so many of us are depressed all the time.
So if you want to work with your depression you have to first acknowledge it. Then you have to make the time for it. Then you need to let go of controlling the whole thing. Seriously. The more you try to control things, especially in depression, the more depressed you’re going to get. Let this happen as it’s going to happen. You know what you need to do and what you need to work on. Your brain and ego want to do it their way, but that is a recipe for disaster. So listen to your inner voice. The one that comes from the body, not the mind. Because it has the wisdom you are seeking to do this work.
Gather some tools beforehand as well. Because it is not an easy thing you are planning on doing. Journals help a lot because we tend to be more honest on paper than we are with other people. It’s a safe place to put anything and everything down. Again just let the words flow. It is also more physical than typing is. Handwriting allows for different strokes. My journals are full of cursive, print, italics, large letters, small letters, medium letters. It’s a subtle and gentle way to allow emotional expression. Also in journaling you can do something that most people would institutionalize you for. You can talk to yourself. You can let whatever emotion is at the forefront just rant and rant for as long as your stamina holds up. This gives the emotion a chance to actually say things in a way that you can understand. You can go back and reread it and learn quite a bit about yourself and what you need to do. It gives a voice to the voice you have ignored for so long.
I am an introvert and alone time for introverts is a vital need. It also goes against the grain of society saying if you’re depressed you need to get out and do. Well that may work from time to time. Depends on the reason for the depression. I tried it and it just made things worse. Mostly because going out and doing things to get over depression is just another way to divert attention from what needs attention. So I isolated myself from people as much as possible. And while things didn’t get immediately better or anything, I felt safer. Though there were times where it did make the depression more intense. Probably because there were no distractions or diversions from what I was feeling. Which is exactly what needs to happen to do this work.
I needed the safe place to work through things. It’s almost impossible to emote in society unless it’s happy. The amount of ridicule and rejection of a validation of the reality of the emotional experience in society is astounding. Bad habits and unhealthy ways of ‘dealing’ with another person’s emotions abounds. So doing it in the safety of my room was vital. I have no idea how it will work for extroverts, but this may be one of those rare moments where you need to be alone. Or you might need someone around who is just going to let you be. Someone to create the space.
Therapy and depression.
Therapy is also a great tool to utilize in this process. But do your research on therapists. It’s like trying to find the right pants when you don’t know what size you are. You search for a good or perfect fit. Do the same thing with therapists. Find someone easy to talk to. If you have bad experiences in your past with therapists, chances are you got the exact opposite of what you needed. If your experience was the breach of trust because you were under 18, well you’re probably over 18 now and if you’re not you need to be aware of the few areas where a therapist should break your trust and the areas where they should not. If your experience was bad because you just weren’t ready, then wait until you’re ready. Or go find a friend who doesn’t mind being your therapist.
Other tools do include a few things to distract or divert your attention. Things that will lift your mood no matter what. Yes you need to focus, but too much focus will drag you into a place where you are too exhausted to hear yourself properly. That leads to improper work and is just as bad as ignoring the need for this work altogether. So after you’ve done a good amount of intense work, take a break. Chill out. Take a bath. Relax.
One more thing. Celebrate.
I know it’s hard to allow we have done good. We are so used to punishing ourselves for what we ‘should have done’ even if we didn’t have the information needed to do so at the moment we made the decision. So we beat ourselves up and never congratulate ourselves. But celebrating when you have made some progress is vital to this process. It helps us be more honest with ourselves. Because beating ourselves up for every little or big thing is hugely dishonest. And depression will get worse if you do not start owning up to the good you do and the progress you are making.
I wish you luck and strength on this path. It is difficult, but it is so very worth it.